The very thought of being marooned on an island even for a day to seek solitude and serenity sans the drama – when you just want to tear yourself away from the troubles of the world, from being too attached to the internet, from the noise of it all — was something that I’ve been meaning to do. So, after I was invited to sit in the jury for Miss San Francisco, Camotes 2012, there was no crazy thing left to do but explore the islands, the idea to drop everything – all appointments, all semblance of routine and/or structure—was too tempting to resist. The final spur of the decision came in the form of a kindred soul—the filmmaker Joanna Vasquez Arong who shared the same sense of adventure to live the moment.
Zoomed we went to Tulang in a skip of a heartbeat. Packed with nothing but the thrill of seeing the island (we hired a habal-habal to bring us there without negotiating the going rate –only to find out much much later that our calibration was way off by a hundred lower for the poor boy just shrugged his shoulder and never asked for money), we marvelled at the sight of pristine white sandy beaches and the azure summery sky. Tulang Daku (still part of San Francisco) has a twin island, Tulang Diot, which literally means a small islet off of it. Although the beach front of Tulang Daku already very inviting, the sight of its smaller sister across was so tempting you’d be a fool not to cross the ocean that separates the twin at birth. Our jaws dropped when the boatman (fifty-year old Manong Romeo, he with the body of Marc Nelson with a missing toe) declared that it would only cost us 10 Php to do it, we hopped in the outrigger boat with a nary a minute of indecision.
But of course, we wanted more: we asked Manong Romeo to give us a tour first of the whole islet, and he acceded to our request. The five-minute ride circumnavigating Tulang Diot was a breeze. All those promontory cliffs with the waves below crashing against it, while a few meters off one could view the fish going about the business of swimming unperturbed. It was nearly lunchtime, we asked Manong Romeo to get us the freshest catch of parrot fish to grill. The friendly sari-sari store near the shoreline volunteered to cook rice to go. And we had an instant picnic all to ourselves in the sandbar!
The ever-ready Joanna was armed with a blanket and a book in tow, and like a hand to glove, she spread her little blanket like love, laid down with an arm supporting her head, read her book in “beaching” position! Who needs music when you can hear kids literally hanging around the Talisay tree, dancing to “Teach Me How To Doggie” until they fell flat to the ground, and unceremoniously picked their puny selves, like hurt is a strange word, and off to climb again, or chill in the hammock made of fish net.
Before we knew it, lunch was already beckoning us, and we transformed into savages feasting on the freshest catch, devouring the food with our hands, dipping the grilled fish in hot native vinegar and tomatoes. Paradise was found.
There was no telling that we had a boat ride to catch after lunch, and the idea grew into a full-fledge adventure: to stay in Tulang Diot for the night! Of course, there were no resorts in this piece of paradise, thank God, so we got back our stuff, packed everything in a jiffy, shopped for soli-soli mats, and headed back to rediscover this paradise. It was already 3:30pm when we got back, so off we snorkelled to marvel at the beauty of nature teeming with life in the coral reefs. By the time we docked, it was already close to twilight, and Manong Romeo became chef and father, all at once, tending to his prodigal guests. This time, we bought a tuna that weighted 2.25 kilos that Manong Romeo, with the help of friendly island boys, grilled to utter perfection.
It was already dark when we had dinner. We ate with only a flash light held up by Manong Romeo (we were amazed at how he could multi-task: from being a boatman turned tour guide turned chef and now lighting director?). There was still so much left of our food miraculously, and we invited a motley crew of islanders to join us. We swapped stories under a moonless sky, and since the islet’s electricity powered by generator was only until 10pm, we inched our way close to the lone lamppost powered by solar-energy that shone shyly.
We had a few drinks (rum coke for the boys and cold beer for the two travellers), and the islanders indulged us with their company. By 10pm, the merry-making had reached a climax, and it was time to call it a night. After all, we needed to leave by early dawn to catch a boat ride back to the city of smog. The stars from above became fickle; there was a threat of at least a drizzle. Slumber failed to hug us like a mad man, for how can you “just sleep on this one?” The waves were singing its story, echoing a lullaby of summer that even the naughtiest hermit crab was at its best behaviour and never crawled in our mat made of dry grass, and a truce for peace was had.
How to Get to Tulang Diot:
From the pier 4 Terminal, take the fast-craft bound for Camotes at 6am (for Php350); you can also take the slow boat from Danao City port (PhP250); hop a habal-habal (motorcycle) all the way to Tulang Daku, San Francicso (PhP100); and ride a pumpboat to cross to Tulang Diot (Php10).